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The Nüz That Was

In 2001, Santa Cruz continued its great tradition of redefining normal. Breastfeeding moms went topless; irate cyclists painted their own bike lane; UC profs got miffed when they didn't make the patriotic blacklist; Umbrella Man vanished and Mr. Twister headed north to Alaska.

Edited by Sarah Phelan

Cartoons by Steven DeCinzo

Too Right

Jan. 31--Walking along Pacific Avenue on the first day of PG&E's rolling blackouts, Nüz detected an almost partylike spirit, as workers and shop owners poured out of darkened buildings and into the winter sunshine. Nüz even overheard one temporarily freed-from-his-cubicle worker gloat, "This feels futuristic. Hell, maybe blackouts will stop the dotcom invasion."

To be frank, the unfolding "energy crisis" has Nüz feeling like a mouse in a snake cage. Hypnotized by the daily slitherings of supposedly cash-strapped utility companies, Nüz was at first hopeful that a better, brighter alternative energy future was imminent. Now we are beginning to realize the awful truth: We are the snake's dinner.

La Bomba!

Feb. 7--Supersonic jets ripping through the skies at 1,100 mph above the coastal mountain valley, dropping practice bombs amid wildlife habitat and Native American burial grounds? The idea seemed too ludicrous to be real.

Sadly, the U.S. Navy wasn't joking about its proposal to build an F-16 and F-18 training site at the 165,000-acre Fort Hunter Liggett, in Los Padres National Forest adjacent to Big Sur. But some nightmares have happy endings. Pressured by monks, environmentalists, and the tourism industry, and with Congressmember Sam Farr leading the fray, the Navy dropped the plan, not the bombs by year's end.

Fig Leaves

Feb. 14--What should you do if you're unhappy with police conduct? File a complaint with the Citizens' Police Review Board, of course, but you may find yourself waiting for the figging leaves to fall. Says Dan Alper, who resigned Monday after 18 months on the CPRB, "At present, people can point to the CPRB and say, 'We don't need anything else. It does the job.' But really the CPRB is like a fig leaf: it covers up everything nicely. And that's all."

Unpatriotic Cell

Feb. 28--The Seaside Company has stumbled upon the perfect way to supplement its income--a cell phone antenna. Brought to you by Sprint, the antenna would grace the top of the Carousel Motel on Riverside Drive.

In the last eight years, the number of cell phone users has jumped from 9 million to 90 million, and though Santa Cruz doesn't have a specific ordinance that deals with cell phone antennae, the county is working on one. However, the Santa Cruz Planning Department doesn't know exactly how many antennae are already located in the city, though Sprint alone has three applications underway.

Board member Robert Bickal, who says he intends never to own a cell phone, opposed the antenna on aesthetic grounds. The motel is already graced by five flagpoles, all of which exceed height limitations. The proposed antenna, designed to look exactly like a flagpole, would be nestled amid the ones already there. Bickal was concerned with the implications of concealing the device in an American flag. "It's a bit tacky," he said. "I'm not a super patriot, but it doesn't seem appropriate."

Tree Ebola?

March 21--Hundreds of beetles scuttling over tree trunks. Black fruiting bodies sprouting from bleeding bark. Leaves brown as paper bags. Oaks dead in a matter of weeks. It sounds like a scene from a Harry Potter novel but unfortunately is very real in California. Since 1995, Sudden Oak Death has killed tens of thousands of tan oaks, live oaks and black oaks along the 190-mile range of coastline between Sonoma and Monterey counties--a situation that got Nüz asking Steve Tjosvold, environmental horticulture adviser for UC Cooperative Extension, if SOD is to oaks as Ebola is to humans.

"I know journalists like to put things in those kind of terms, but I'd rather you didn't," Tjosvold said, explaining that SOD is caused by a fungus similar to that which triggered the Irish potato blight of the 1800s. As for the beetles, apparently they're secondary harbingers of doom, only showing up once trees are already dying.

Dark Side of Fuzzy

March 21--Nüz would like to thank Veronica Elsie for clueing us into an surprisingly entertaining read: the Santa Cruz Municipal Code. Elsie is the blind musician who almost single-handedly squelched a (dare we say it) fuzzily conceived effort to change pet owners into pet guardians.

Sure, there were others--breeders worrying how they would "sell" dogs they no longer "owned," not to mention local resident June Shelton warning that any of us could, as guardians, be held responsible if the neighbor's cat pounced on an endangered rodent in our yard.

But it was Elsie, accompanied by her guide dog L'Orange, who put the mockers on the G-word with her claim that people have been harassing her on the street. "They say it's horrible that I'm confining my dog in a harness and that he needs to be running free," Elsie said.

Elsie recommended that Nüz read the proposed revised ordinance, which contains some classic goof-ups, generated when the city electronically replaced "owner" with the word "guardian" throughout the code. Nüz followed Elsie's advice--but got distracted on discovering that according to the code "Bloodless Bullfights are prohibited" (meaning, Nüz wonders, that bloody bullfights aren't?). Even more startling was the statement that cats "shall be considered personal property."

As Nüz and anybody who has ever shared their abode with a cat knows, cats do not have owners. Cats have staff.

Smash Talk

March 28--"If you knew the history of Christopher Columbus from an indigenous person's point of view, you'd know that having a statue of him in a public place is like having a statue of Hitler in Jerusalem," said James Cosner, who took a sledgehammer to the statue of Christopher Columbus at San Jose City Hall on March 8.

So, why a sledgehammer?

"In 15 minutes, I got thousands of people to think much more profoundly about the reality that Columbus was the founding father of the genocide of the indigenous tribes," Cosner told Nüz.

Genocide wasn't the only thing Cosner got people thinking about. Police booked him for vandalism with bail set at $4,000. Then members of an Italian-American organization complained, and Cosner found himself facing a hate-crime enhancement, with bail raised to $50,000--an amount usually reserved for rapists and murderers. Cosner, who was described by the San Jose Mercury News as a "Ben Lomond man with a criminal history of civil disobedience," was sentenced to 10 months in jail, and ordered to pay $65,000 in restitution and do 5,250 hours of community service. (Note to the Merc: Hammer-wielding disobedience is considered a prerequisite for living in Ben Lomond, but Cosner actually lives in Aptos.)

Mary Poppins He's Not

March 28--People knew something was wrong when Pacific Avenue fixture Robert Steffen, a.k.a. "Umbrella Man," stopped saying, "Have a nice day!" But Santa Cruisers really freaked when suddenly he was gone from his bench in front of Bookshop Santa Cruz, which held Steffen and his garbage bag-adorned umbrella for 17 months. Rumors flew: he was in jail, had flown to Chicago to be on Jerry Springer, or was dead. As it happens, Steffen was in the El Dorado Center, a sub-acute facility for the dually diagnosed mentally ill.

"I decided I needed some help," Steffen told Nüz by phone. "During the time I sat on the mall, I isolated myself so much from society that I wasn't communicating well with people."

Readers may recall that in November 2000, Steffen ran for president on his own Black Sheep Party ticket. He now hopes to build up said party and solicit donations. And after a few weeks in therapy, he's getting to be more social. "Something I obviously need to be if I'm going to get a political party together," said. Steffen. "Plus, I haven't had a date in who knows how long."

Cartoon

Sluggish

April 18--April 21 marks UCSC's annual Banana Slug Fair, a self-puffing event that draws thousands of alums, students and parents. This year, visitors will no doubt get to hear how UC spends their tax money--a spending policy that UC lecturers claim is wrong, insulting and irresponsible to teachers who aren't faculty senate or tenured.

Last Friday, UCSC lecturers kicked off the first in a string of systemwide demonstrations to protest lack of progress in their efforts to bargain with UC. About 250 nonsenate faculty, lecturers, students and supporters marched to the chancellor's office headed by a student on a gurney hooked up to an IV. Outside the chancellor's office, the crowd--led by UCSC lecturer and former Santa Cruz Mayor Mike Rotkin on guitar and art lecturer Paul Rangell on violin--sang union songs and waved banners declaring such gems as "First class university's [sic] don't treat faculty like second-class citizens."

The Day the Music Died

June 20--On June 1, the amplified strains of a local punk band called the Lowdown attracted the attention of the SCPD's Lt. Tom Vlassis. The music was coming from the Wired Wash Cafe, a Laundromat/coffee shop. It didn't take Vlassis long to discern that said establishment didn't have an entertainment permit, which meant this was the day the music died.

"I'm pissed off!" says Wired Wash manager Jeff Lewis. "I'm just bummed about the whole thing because there are so few places that aren't these gigantic venues where kids can go that are free."

"We were starting to get calls from all over, from record labels who wanted to book shows here," adds employee Nate Archer. "But now, we've had to cancel all of our upcoming shows. We thought we were obeying the law. We thought that it was OK if there were under 100 people and no cover charge. But I guess not."

"A lot of businesses are under that impression," says Lt. Vlassis. "But just because it's free, it doesn't mean they don't have to get the permit."

Cartoon

Got Milk?

July 18--On July 14, more than 30 mothers nursed their babies in front of Marini's on Pacific Avenue. Organized by Birth Network of Santa Cruz County, the nurse-in was a response to a recent incident at Marini's in which staff asked nursing mother Melanie Clement to leave because of the way in which she was feeding her baby. Clement claims she was breastfeeding after buying chocolates, when a clerk said, "You need to be finished here." Marini's management declined to comment but did hand Nüz a written statement explaining that the staff had wanted Clement to be more discreet. "She exposed her breast in a very open manner and began to nurse her baby at the counter," the statement read. "The manager expressed to her that it would make the employees more comfortable if she were a bit more discreet and used a table."

"It's not an issue of discretion," said Laura Maxson, executive director of Birth Network of Santa Cruz County. (Discrimination against breastfeeding mothers is illegal, according to California Civil Code.) "If the employees are feeling uncomfortable, it's just something they're going to have to deal with."

For the Crows

July 25--Blame it on live bands and a fog-free June, but those free-whirlin' Crow's Nest Thursday-night beach parties have died a sudden death. As Santa Cruz Port District Operations Manager Kimbra Eldridge explains, the weekly event became so popular, it was causing traffic nightmares.

"We had the best June weather anyone has ever seen, and the beach parties started off with a huge bang and just kept on getting bigger," Eldridge says, adding that the parties were seeing 300 cars in the parking lot and another 300 in the nearby neighborhood--and traffic backed up to Fifth and Lake.

Says Eldridge, "The Crow's Nest is a wonderful tenant, so we discussed the problem with them. Thereafter, instead of live bands, the Crow's Nest used a DJ and Hawaiian-style music.

"Word got out that there would be no live bands--so no one came, which was when we decided it wasn't worth the effort," says Eldridge, adding that she hopes "this unique free-spirited event at which children and people in their 20s and seniors all dance together returns."

Cartoon

Alaskan Twister

July 25--Word on the street is that Santa Cruz clown-about-town Mr. Twister, who made national headlines for being ticketed for feeding expired parking meters, has run away to Alaska. When Nüz asked the obvious ("Alaska! But why?"), we were told he'd fallen in love with a gal from the state whose motto is "North to the Future."

And now he has followed his heart to Alaska, where he is engaged to be married. Which makes Nüz wonder what kinda balloons Mr. Twister will be twisting with Missus Twister, once the mercury dips to 30 below. (A question to be repeated four times while gurgling ice cubes atop a glacier chock full of pogoing penguins and surly-pawed polar bears.)

North Meets South

Aug. 22--Nüz wants to thank the reader who called regarding the penguins and polar bears who shared a glacier with Mr. Twister (see above). According to this tipster, and we quote, "Polar bears are in the north, and penguins are in the south, so they don't get together too often."

Two Percent Art

Aug. 1--What do "I'm in Love With My Car," "Let Me Be Your Car" and "Car Crazy Cutie Fun Fun Fun" have in common--besides repeated mention of the C-word?

They're all song titles featured in the porcelain enamel-on-steel panels recently installed at the parking garage at Front Street and Soquel Avenue in Santa Cruz.

Since the installation, Nüz has heard Cruzers--most of whom park in said garage--complain that since automobiles aren't what Surf City is about, why the carcentric panels? It's a complaint that makes their designer, Vicki Scuri, laugh.

"Santa Cruz may pooh-pooh the car culture, but it increasingly relies on cars to get around," says Scuri, who describes herself as an environmental designer who specializes in architectural enhancement. "There's a certain irony when a city that prides itself on being alternative puts a parking garage at its gateway."

Dividing Lane

Aug. 1--Even as some environmentalists were singing "Ding-dong, the witch is dead" in the wake of the Santa Cruz City Council's 4-3 vote to kill the Broadway-Brommer bike route, a group of cyclists called the Bicycle Lane Demonstration Project was painting a bike lane on Soquel Avenue--an operation they completed in minutes.

Their point? It doesn't have to take another decade to make a safe east-west passage happen.

Nüz can attest firsthand that Soquel isn't what you'd call a "fun" ride on an iron horse. But activists argue that this route is a better bet than the city's latest proposal--a ramp from Frederick Street Park to the Yacht Harbor--which they say is not safe because it's too steep and contains one hairpin turn. Councilmember Keith Sugar promised bike lanes on Soquel at the July 24 council meeting, but after the Broadway-Brommer path fell through, cyclists won't be holding their collective breath.

Beach Parties

Sept. 26--News that 1,500 volunteers had picked up 4,500 pounds of trash and recyclables in Santa Cruz County on Coastal Cleanup Day had Nüz wondering whether the presence of an estimated 20,000 Beachfest Christians over last weekend would inadvertently undo the good work at the Main Beach. But thanks to more than 1,000 Beachfest volunteers, the beach did look as clean as before--even if it no longer had part of the backed-up San Lorenzo River snaking across it.

As Gary Kittleson, the city's biological monitor reports, two days before Beachfest began, someone breached the river mouth with a backhoe. Kittleson, who photographed tractor treads left by the offending vehicle, says the tracks don't match with city or contractor equipment.

"It's likely it was a rental of something small, possibly a Bobcat," says Kittleson, who has documented six breachings.

Meanwhile, lifeguards, surfers and city staff have denied any knowledge of what's going on at the river mouth. Says Carol Scurich of Parks & Rec, "Things happen down there that we don't know about--and I doubt whether we'll ever find out, but we didn't open the river up."

Tale of Two Campers

Oct. 3--The Sept. 25 Santa Cruz City Council meeting got off to a musical bang as an emotional audience sang along as Camp Paradise residents played a tape of "God Bless America." But though many citizens in attendance pledged their support to finding a way to keep the drug- and alcohol-free camp intact, councilmembers didn't give their unconditional blessing.

Emphasizing the riverbed is not feasible as a long-term location, but acknowledging there is as yet no relocation site for Camp Paradise, the council voted unanimously to give its residents a 30-day stay of execution.

San Lorenzo Urban River Plan task-force member Kathleen Abood remarked that the city's decision to let Camp Paradise stay reminded her of the 1930s, when the then City Council agreed to let the Seaside Company have private use of the tidelands.

Suggesting that Camp Paradise and Seaside Company are both possibly illegal campers is a useful comparison--with a couple of differences. Whereas Camp Paradise has been parking its tents on a riverside site for nine months, the Seaside Company has been parking cars on a tidelands site for four decades. And whereas Camp Paradise residents have been ticketed and constantly scrutinized, while having open discussions about their current and future plans, Seaside Company reps continue to meet the city behind closed doors to discuss their options.

Funny Face

Oct. 3--"It's a tough time to be a comic," declared Aussie Jim Short as he MC'd the first round of the San Francisco International Stand-Up Comedy Competition at the Crow's Nest, just 12 days after Sept. 11. Tough, but essential.

Self-avowed sexual liberator Auggie Smith, who took one of the finalist slots , confided to Nüz that the key to doing comedy at this time is to be reverent.

Explained Smith, "We all have the same thing on our mind, so it's almost impossible not to bring up Sept. 11, but we're not demons or sociopaths, and there are details, especially as regards the media, that are funny."

Media details funny? asked Nüz.

"Very. Suddenly shark attacks and the sex lives of politicians no longer seem very important," said Smith. "and, the media has to deal with stuff that matters."

Ouch.

Who's Ready for Bioween?

Oct. 3--With the news that local residents are buying up gas masks and chemical warfare suits faster than George W. Bush can say "Wanted: Dead or Alive," Nüz wondered to what extent Santa Cruz County is prepared for bioterrorism. The answers were far from encouraging.

According to the chair of Dominican Hospital's disaster-planning committee, Dr. John Fust, who has conducted training for hospital medical staff, the hospital is "relying on doctors and health-care providers for early detection."

But as one ER doctor Nüz spoke with admitted, the average doctor is probably clueless about bioterrorism symptoms.

According to the experts Nüz talked to, there are no anthrax or smallpox vaccines available to the public. Ditto for Ebola and other fatal diseases. As for gas masks--a bad joke. Bacteria are invisible, so unless you wear your Darth Vader look everywhere--including to bed--your chances of being protected at the right moment aren't good.

Cartoon

Uncivil Liberty

Oct.24--On Oct. 6, leftist talk-show host Peter Werbe had his program terminated at Santa Cruz-based KSCO-KOMY (1080-AM). So many listeners called to complain about the post-Werbeian lack of political balance, that KSCO co-owner Kay Zwerling took to the airwaves and publicly denounced Werbe and his show.

Declaring that "partisanship is out; we are all Americans now," Kay Zwerling criticized dissidents in general-- "as pacifists, they want us to assume the dead roach position," before attacking Werbe, whom she characterized as an extreme leftist whose favorite target for ridicule is Bush.

"This may have been fair game in normal times, but we're in a state of war. We cannot afford the luxury of political divisiveness," Zwerling said.

One anonymous talk-radio listener told Nüz he doesn't always agree with Werbe, but doesn't feel threatened by the ragings of a pacifist. "Santa Cruz deserves something better than a diet of wacko right-wing radio," he said.

For now, KSCO-KOMY callers are at the mercy of right-wing syndicated host Michael Savage, who is broadcast six hours daily. Curious, Nüz tuned into Savage's spot on Oct. 19 and heard him accuse "peace marchers of committing treason," then advocate "nuking Afghanistan," and "stopping immigration and affirmative action" as a "solution to the crisis," which he blamed on "ultraliberalism."

Up in Coke

Oct. 31--The news Oct. 30 that Coca-Cola wants to buy Odwalla was like hearing that Darth Vader wants to snack on an ewok. Odwalla CEO Stephen Williamson wasn't available for comment, but Zack Liske, Santa Cruz sales and operation manager, said Odwalla's staff has been told there will be no layoffs and that Odwalla will remain a separate company with Williamson at the helm.

Dirty Nukes

Nov. 7--The International Atomic Energy Agency said last Friday it's worried terrorists will steal nuclear materials and combine them into a bomb using a conventional explosive. The resulting weapon could spew out deadly nuclear materials to contaminate a wide area, making it uninhabitable for decades.

Mike Dever, Santa Cruz County emergency services administrator, is not concerned about fallout here. "Santa Cruz is a safe place to be in terms of terrorist activities--we don't have recognizable symbolic structures." Dever also said the county has emergency plans in place and well-trained haz-mat people.

Marshall Smith, a former aerospace engineer and physicist in Silicon Valley, agrees. Because of the prevailing easterly wind patterns, he told Nüz, "the safest place to be in the United States during a nuclear or radiological attack would be Half Moon Bay, Santa Cruz or the Big Sur region--those places in between targets in San Francisco, the Moss Landing power plant and nuclear reactors along the coast in Southern California."

List Bummer

Dec. 5--Members of UCSC's famously outspoken faculty are outraged that they didn't made it onto Lynne Cheney's blacklist of unpatriotic statements heard on college campuses in the wake of Sept. 11.

"It was an insult to be omitted, and we're still writhing in embarrassment," said UCSC's Middle Eastern Studies Professor Terry Burke of the list, published this November in a report by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, a self-described "educational nonprofit dedicated to academic freedom, quality and accountability." Second Lady Lynne Cheney is a founding member.

In its report, ACTA accused academe of invoking "tolerance and diversity as antidotes to evil" and listed the name and position of each of the 116 cited professors. alongside their quotes, including the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who made the unpatriotic suggestion that we "build bridges and relationships, not simply bombs and walls."

New Order

Dec. 5--At his inauguration, newly elected Mayor Christopher Krohn promised things will be done differently now. "Everyone will have access," said Krohn, vowing to support the newly formed Santa Cruz Service Corps and to relocate Camp Paradise to a safe and well-managed area. Krohn also said he wants to finish the San Lorenzo River restoration project and restore the tidelands (but will he sunshine meetings with the Seaside Company?) as well as work for affordable housing, alternative transportation and living-wage assurance.

Meanwhile, a smiling ex-Mayor Tim Fitzmaurice said, "Now I can be one more person on the mall who can say they were once the mayor of Santa Cruz."

Nüz spotted Fitzmaurice at Krohn's inauguration party, clutching a copy of The Essential Rumi, a translation of the writings of Jelaluddin Rumi, who was born in the region now known as Afghanistan almost 800 years ago and wrote such gems as "Drunks fear the police / but the police are drunk, too. / People in this town love them both like different chess pieces," a verse Fitzmaurice was unfamiliar with, but promised he'd check out.

Harry Potter and the CIA

Dec. 26--While watching Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, Nüz was struck by how class-ridden the whole boarding school setup is, what with magicians being a separate and presumably superior class to us mundane Muggles. And doesn't Quidditch look like an airborne crossbreed of polo and rugby? All a satire on Britain's class-ridden society, one presumes.

Nüz' irritation with the violin-heavy soundtrack was momentarily suspended when Defense Against the Dark Arts Professor Quirrell unwrapped his headdress, thereby revealing ... well, we wouldn't want to spoil the film for those who haven't yet seen it ... so let's just say, thereby shocking Nüz into wondering whether the film's turban-removing scene might unwittingly fuel the American suspicion that anyone with a turban is an agent of He Who Cannot Be Found. The Quirrell image has become even more potent with Osama's disembodied voice last heard echoing through the caves of Tora Bora in a very Voldemortian way.

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From the December 26, 2001-January 2, 2002 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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